SHANGHAI - Lewis Hamilton convincingly snared pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix Saturday as he put himself in line to win three races in a row for the first time and seize control of the championship. Under steady rain, the British Mercedes driver was untouchable as he powered to 1min 53.860sec, his third pole position in four races this season and more than half-a-second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Australian driver Ricciardo again out-qualified his Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the four-time defending world champion, who was third in 1:54.960. Hamilton's team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg could only manage fourth place in the slippery conditions as he ran wide on the last bend of his final flying lap and spun spectacularly.
It was the 34th pole position of Hamilton's F1 career, eclipsing the record set by the legendary Scot Jim Clark back in the 1960s, and provided more evidence that he could dominate this season. "It's definitely more satisfying when it's wet. It's so slippery out there," Hamilton told reporters, revealing that he might have gone even quicker but for a small mistake. "Our car is great. The lap could have been faster because I lost a little bit of time through turn 10 and I was like: 'How are the times looking?' So I'm ecstatic, really happy."
Despite winning the last two races, Hamilton still trails Rosberg by 11 points in the drivers' championship but the German will now have to start behind both Red Bulls as well as his team-mate. "Cool, alrighty," exclaimed Ricciardo, when told over team radio he was on the front row for just the second time in his career. "Right at the end of Q3 I managed to pull something out," he explained later. "I wasn't really comfortable so we made a couple of changes for that last run and, yeah, I put everything out there on that last lap."
Rosberg complained of being off the pace throughout qualifying. "I was generally not quick enough today. I've been struggling with braking," he said. "I was trying a little bit too hard in the end. I had to give it a go in the last corner and it didn't quite work out. But it didn't really change much." Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will be fifth on the grid but his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had mechanical problems which severely limited his practice runs, will be down in 11th place after being eliminated in Q2.
"Yesterday the car felt better than Bahrain," said Alonso, who has shown improved pace all week. "We are starting fifth which I think is a good result. Hopefully we are closer (to a podium finish) than we have been in the last couple of races. Fighting for ninth and 10th is obviously not good enough. So tomorrow if everything goes right we can be closer. Not with Mercedes in the dry but with Red Bull. We shouldn't be 30 seconds behind them anymore."
Raikkonen was clearly not so confident after failing to make Q3. "We had some issues again today with downshifting," he said. "We had issues yesterday in the dry as well." Brazil's Felipe Massa showed that his rapidly improving Williams can conquer a wet track, after impressive pace in the dry on Friday, by putting himself on the third row alongside his former Ferrari team-mate Alonso.
Just behind Massa will be the second Williams driven by Finland's Valtteri Bottas and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, who had grip problems and only scraped into Q3 late in the second session. Completing the top 10 were the French duo of Jean-Eric Vergne for Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean for Lotus.
There was a major shock in Q2 when in addition to Raikkonen, both McLarens failed to make the final top-10 shoot-out despite being powered by 2014's all-conquering Mercedes engine.
Jenson Button complained over team radio that his McLaren had no grip on the rain-sodden surface. "I didn't know what to expect," he told media after being eliminated in Q2. "It's tough in these conditions. I just hope it's dry tomorrow. It's a pity. Normally being P12 you get a benefit from having new sets of tyres you didn't use in qualifying, but we don't as it's wets we've been running on."